Author Archives: kimmiekim28

Europe for the Senses

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Languid strolls along the Seine and sumptuous cheeses in Paris…swimming au naturel in the warm Mediterranean waters of Barcelona and Lesvos…watching a lingering sunset framed by playful seagulls as my ferry coursed through the Greek islands.

As if all this pleasure was not enough, two events that I was fortunate enough to attend stand out as special highlights of my trip. Both open-air live music concerts, they will stay with me for a long, long time to come because of the unforgettable way that they stimulated my senses on every level.

The first artist was Savina Yannatou, a Greek singer who performed as part of the International Women’s Festival in the village of Skala Eresos on Lesvos island, which I wrote about in my last post. I knew nothing about her other than that she was quite famous—so much so that people were coming to Skala Eresos from other cities, and perhaps even other islands, to see her perform.

The show took place in a lovely outdoor cinema located just next to the adorable little pension where I was renting a room. Although the weather had been oppressively hot for the entire week of my stay, on the day of the concert it suddenly turned extremely cold. Many concert-goers, then—including myself—violated the dressy protocol of the evening by shamelessly wrapping ourselves in blankets that we had dragged from our rooms to block the freezing wind.

Once Savina came onstage and began performing, however, I personally forgot about the cold (well, almost!)…that’s how powerful her stage presence was. Her incredibly wide vocal range was apparent from the very first song, which included clicking and whirring sounds that I would actually describe as more birdlike than human. (Sort of reminded me of violinist and vocalist Aska Kaneko, who I am a huge follower of in Tokyo). The songs came from a number of countries across the Mediterranean and beyond, and with each one Yannatou seemed to demonstrate a new and more amazing vocal technique. At one point, I heard someone sitting nearby whisper that and both she and her outstanding piano accompanyist, Evgenia Karlayti, were actually improvising! WOW.

I don’t want to sound like I am mystifying or exoticizing this experience, but sitting outside in the open-air theater, with the winds blowing and Yanatou singing song after lovely song in her ethereal sounding voice, I felt like there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been in that moment. Totally incredible. (I also picked up a CD of her performing live, so I get to continue to enjoy her work! )

The second event took place last night in Firenze (Florence), Italy—the last evening of the season for the 2009 Florence Chamber Music Festival. The concert was held in an open plaza inside the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, and featured the works by two composers—both for some reason Hungarian Jewish men named Gyorgy (Ligeti and Kurtag, to be precise)…thanks, Wikipedia! 🙂  I had been hoping to attend an event like this while in Europe—chamber music in a historical setting—and the evening in fact could not have been more perfect.

I had spent the day touring some of Florence’s most famous museums, and found myself trying to come to terms with the fact that I actually would have preferred wandering aimlessly around the city and discovering my own adventures rather than spending excessive sums of money to end up standing in endless queues with seemingly every other tourist in the city. Understandable, perhaps…but I still felt like I should have been making more of an effort to appreciate and be inspired by these hugely famous Renaissance art treasures.

Coming to this concert, however, allowed me to finally appreciate the grandeur of this city in my own way. (Not surprising, I guess, as I always have been more of a musically inclined person than a visual art fan!) The works of these composers—one of whose immediate family were nearly all killed in the Holocaust–were intensely eerie and haunting. Listening to these outstanding musicians (vocalists, pianists, violinists, and a contrabassist) perform piece after amazing piece, with stars twinkling above me and 400 or 500 year-old marble statues peering down at me from all four sides, I was finally able to experience that feeling of being intensely moved that I imagine art lovers must have when visiting their favorite museums.

I  also learned that the Bargello used to be a prison. Given this history, as well as the sad history on Lesvos island of the horrific population exchange with Turkey back in the 1920’s, I like to think that the energies stirred up from both of these amazing performances were able to somehow travel back through time to generate some sort of healing.

In any case, they were both amazing experiences for me personally, for which I am extremely thankful.

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We are all Lesvians: Love, Strength and Good Energies in Paradise / Refugee Support Campaign

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So…here I am, in paradise on earth: the village of Skala Eresos on Lesvos Island, Greece. Birthplace of Sappho, the lyrical poet who lived around the year 600 BC and whose works were so lovely that the Greek philosopher Plato later referred to her as the Tenth Muse. And because many of her poems focused on women as the subjects of her love and gaze, the term Lesbian (which already refers to all residents of the island here–even the men! 🙂 ) became to hold the popular meaning it does today.

For the past week or so, my daily routine has gone something like this: Wake up around 9 or 10 and head out for breakfast at one of the countless cafes overlooking the beach—each one seemingly more gorgeous than the next. Next on the agenda: a few hours of the freelance translation work that I brought along with me, and then around 1 or 2 PM, head to the beach for some sunning and swimming (au naturel!) in the crystal clear waters while making friends with women from all around the world.  At 5 or 6PM, head back to the sweet little room I am renting for a shower and to do my daily clothes washing. Back out to the cafe for another round of work and dinner, and sometimes out to dance or drink with the ladies. I could definitely get used to this lifestyle!! In fact, many women do just that…end up settling down here permanently amongst the locals, running some sort of small business in the village.

That’s what’s so wonderful about Skala Eresos: everyone seems to coexist together so peacefully. Most lesbian festivals or retreats I have been to are completely separated from society at large, but this is one is smack in the middle of a functioning tourist town, interspersed amongst heterosexual couples and little kids and grannies and grandpas. And nobody seems to mind. In fact, at the opening gala a couple of nights ago for the artistic and cultural International Women’s Festival—a fantastic beach party featuring dancers and musicians and theatrical acts onstage—said older folks and little kids sat front and center to catch the action, never mind the occasional female couple kissing around them. And when my friend first brought me to the guest house where I am staying, the friendly older man who runs it inquired whether she and I were a couple. 🙂 Yes, granted, the village probably loves us for our gay tourist dollars (the “pink pound”, as they call it in Britain!), but if the result is mutual understanding and friendliness, then who really cares!

As the totally awesome DJ Promiss rocked it until well after 2 in the morning at the opening party, on the fantastical beach stage with the waning full moon as a backdrop, I could just feel positive energies being stirred up all around. It sort of reminded me of the good vibes of DJ Gerry and DJ Chiaki at Spring Love (I wonder how many times can I plug that event in my own blog?! 😉 ).

Truthfully, I had been trying to fight off feelings of dread for the past couple of days, after not hearing anything for three days from my girlfriend, who is spending the month walking along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. I have been trying to reprogram myself to move away from the Jewish worry gene (“Oh my gawd, she must be dead”) to something more constructive. So, as I sat there drinking in the loveliness of the evening yesterday, I began to create a mantra for myself: send her what she needs—not your worries, but love, strength and energy. And sure enough…midway through the evening I received a text message from her, and aside from her aching muscles, she was fine. The mantra also worked yesterday  afternoon as I was swimming out to a rock in the ocean, which I then climbed to the top of along with a couple of friendly women I encountered along the way. No more “too dangerous…better not try it,” thanks. Love, strength, and good energy all the way!

I also found myself trying to stir up energies of love and compassion for the folks sitting on the other side of Lesvos Island at the Pagani Detention Center for refugees. Being very close to Turkey, Lesvos Island is a first point of entry  for many people hoping to enter the European community–some of them refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan. They usually arrive in very poor quality boats, and are intimated by the Greek coast guard authorities to turn back into Turkish waters–the choppy waves from these tactics sometimes knocking the boats over and causing the refugees’ deaths. Those that do make it to land and are discovered by the authorities are sent to Pagani, which is unsanitary and overcrowded—UNHCR found 990 people on a recent visit when it is meant for only 280. They are being held in inhumane conditions, and some are now on a hunger and thirst strike.

The folks at the recently organized No Border Camp Lesvos 2009 have organized an e-mail campaign to get this facility closed down–please help out if you can.

A very good friend of mine, an Iraqi journalist and human rights activist whom I met in Japan and whom I e-mail with regularly, told me he dreams of the day he can come visit Europe and swim in the sea and laugh and enjoy life like any human being should be able to do. Because he holds an Iraqi passport, however, in this unfair world as it is presently systematically organized, he may not. As I head off now for my afternoon swim and to enjoy myself during the rest of my stay here, I will be continuing to send out vibes of love, respect and good energy for him and for every single person who is not able to enjoy these simple freedoms.


Earth Day Tokyo 2009

Although I have lived in Tokyo for eight years now, I had not yet attended a single Earth Day  until this weekend!! It seemed I always had some work deadline or other conflict going on. This time as well, my girlfriend and I were vascillating about whether or not to attend…but in the end decided to stop by. And am I glad that we did!!

I had kind of expected things to be like the One Love Jamaica festival I attended last year, which–while indeed fun–was more an exercise in wading through masses of people than anything else. Earth Day, au contraire, had a totally cool, relaxed, and chilled-out vibe that was much like that at Spring Love. We had a great time just browsing around the stalls and taking in the atmosphere…my girlfriend picked up some of those cool hand-held instruments where you knock two balls back and forth that are tied to the end of a string (neither of us could remember the name of the instrument…yikes!) and I got some fresh herbs and vegetable seeds for the garden. Can’t wait for the rest of spring!!


Spring Love

It has been a busy spring indeed…the biggest thing on my list being Spring Love, a big peace and music event that I helped organize through my involvement with Peace Not War Japan. The event ended up being wildly successful beyond our greatest expectations…and a hell of a lot of fun given the amazing music, perfect weather, and all around good vibes. Our report on the event is here.

Another fabulous thing about spring in Japan is the famous blooming of the cherry blossoms (sakura). During the first few days or so of April, the cherry trees all look like they are covered with yummy lumps of fresh pink cotton candy for about a week before they  all ephemerally blow away (usually in a gorgeus windy flurry) as the new baby green leaves push their way through. Taking advantage of this show of natural beauty, everyone in Japan heads outside for “ohanami”, which literally translates into “flower viewing”, but is really just a good excuse to party.

In addition to all of the drunken revelery of the week, everyone just seems to be extra laid back and happy during sakura time. I also love all of the related lingo, with terms I only learned recently such as  五部桜 (gobuzakura, or 50% sakura, meaning that the blossoms are half-opened…there are also similar terms, I am told, for when they are 20%, 30%, 80% and 90% full… gotta love the precision there! 😉 ) and other flowerspeak such as 花冷え (hanabie, or “flower chill”, indicating a cold day while the sakura blossoms are out…love it!!), 桜の吹雪 (sakura no fubuki, or a “rain”storm of fluttering sakura petals)…it just goes on.

Here are some photos of this magical time…actually they’re from last year, but who would know! They were just as gorgeous this year too. 🙂


Shamans, prophecy, insights and that oh-so-icky militarism.

imagesHas anyone ever had the experience of reading a book that’s just so mind-blowing that once you’ve gotten to the last page, you immediately flip to the beginning and begin reading it again? I had never done this before until yesterday, on my transpacific flight from Tokyo to San Francisco, with this gem: 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck.  DAMN, can this guy can write!! He took an incredibly massive amount of material (both literary and based on personal experience) relating to the various prophecies that foresee some kind of monumental shift in consciousness peaking in December 2012…and he did it both beautifully and convincingly. I feel like this is about six books in one, and have begun reading it again in order to break down and digest each idea slowly and deeply.

This is not light fare…toward the end of the book, we learn that Pinchbeck, while under the influence of the phsycadelic conconction ayahuasca in the Brazilian rainforest,  believes that he is channeling the ancient spirit of the Toltec (pre-Aztec) deity Quetzalcoatl in order to bring a vital message to humanity that we need to clean up our act…or else. For those with open minds and a hunger to know more about where we need to be headed spiritually as human beings, this book will resonate on many, many levels. Read it, people!! Pinchbeck also wrote another book called Breaking Open the Head: A Psychadelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism that also looks amazing and is presently on my bookshelf waiting to be read…and he is the editor of a very cutting-edge blog called Reality Sandwich.I just ordered a copy of the first RS anthology called Toward 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age that looks fabulous as well…lots of yummy reading ahead!

Whilst turning around all of these mind-expanding possibilities around in my head, however, it was unfortunate that I felt completely ensconsed in an atmosphere of total pro-militarism for practically the entire duration of the flight. Why, for the love of goddess, is it that for practically every flight I have taken to the U.S. in recent memory, I am surrounded by soldiers? Is United Airlines the official airline of the U.S. military or something? And why am I always seated right in their midst? Of course, as distinguishing between ideologies/systems and individuals is an extremely sensitive topic with me, I am not holding anything against soldiers personally as human beings (and I have actually had some rather nice, interesting conversations with some of them). But it is the whole atmosphere surrounding militarism…the whole rendering of it as the normal way of being and living…that I found oppressive and frankly quite frightening. For example, the conversation I had with the guy next to me went something like this:

Military guy (MG): I’m goin’ to live with my family in Arizona.

Me: Oh really? I’m originally from Arizona.

MG: Oh. What were you doing in Tokyo?

Me: I live there.

MG: What? You just said you’re from Arizona. If you’re from Arizona, you can’t *live* in Tokyo. Like, I was in Okinawa for 2 years in the military, but I would never say that I *live* there. There is no way that you *live* in Tokyo. You *live* in Arizona!

Me (who has lived in Tokyo for the past 8 years): Speechless.

Granted, this guy was clearly not the brightest light on the tree, but still…after 2 years living overseas, he could not get the concept that I actually *did not live in the United States*?! To me, that was indicative of the whole system–the ignorant privileging of the U.S. as the obvious, unquestioned center of the world. And especially since I have seen with my own eyes the damage that the imperialist U.S. military has inflicted upon innocent people around the world, the upholding of the military as some of kind of amazing institution to be revered truly saddens me. Evidence of this was all over: military people were exempted from the “no cart in line” rule at ticket counters, have special lounges at the airport, and received free alcohol on the flight, for example. Yes, I realize that they have had a shitty time of it in Iraq and Afghanistan (where MG was stationed for part of his duty) and elsewhere, and since again, I blame the *system* and not the individuals who are just as exploited by it,  I can see how extra perks would seem to be legitimate from this perspective. However, it frustrates and demoralizes me to see the system glorified in so doing.

When I was trying to get my luggage down from the overhead bins, there were a couple of other military-looking guys who were blocking my way, and so I asked them whether they would move a bit so that I could get to my things. I asked them politely, twice, but they just looked askance at me and completely ignored me. I literally had to shove them aside in order to reach the bins…it was truly an uncomfortable moment. I had been one of the last people to board the flight as I had a couple of phone calls to make at the gate…maybe they were doing the equivalent of hazing in order to punish me for my transgression? Have no idea, but in any case, I felt like they were enjoying my discomfort while making no move to be helpful or kind, and I felt a vague sense of sadness and hopelessness for a long time after leaving the flight.

In order to cheer myself up and remind myself of some of positive energy I felt after reading 2012, which offers spirituality as an alternative to the soul-destroying tendencies at the heart of the militarist ideology, I am going to end this (long and overly rambling?) post with the following gem that a friend of mine, Dance for Peace founder and fellow spiritual seeker Gerry Ong, posted recently. It’s titled the Mayan Insight:

To Be Ready for this Moment in History

Many Mayan elders and knowledge keepers may be eliminated in the next few years. For the first half of the current Katun (20-year period) the dark side has a lot of power. But that will pass 3 to 4 years from now. The tide can turn. Amazing things are going to happen.

This is a crucially important moment for humanity, and for earth. Each person is important. If you have incarnated into this era, you have spiritual work to do balancing the planet.

The elders have opened the doors so that other races can come to the Mayan world to receive the tradition. The Maya have long appreciated and respected that there are other colors, other races, and other spiritual systems. “They know,” he said, “that the destiny of the Mayan world is related to the destiny of the whole world.”

“The greatest wisdom is in simplicity”. Love, respect, tolerance, sharing, gratitude, forgiveness. It’s not complex or elaborate. The real knowledge is free. It’s encoded in your DNA. All you need is within you. Great teachers have said that from the beginning. Find your heart, and you will find your way.”


Soaking away our cares in Hakone

Last Sunday afternoon, I headed down to Hakone for an afternoon of onsen therapy with a couple of friends, one of whom has an adorable three year-old son. And was it ever amazing!! We started the afternoon off driving up a winding mountain road until we got to a cute little train station called Gora, which had lots of greenery, many winding streets lined with little artsy shops, and–at last: an onsen that we had *completely* to ourselves!!

For me, onsen are *definitely* one of the top pleasures of living in Japan. I have visited onsen in every conceivable kind of weather–from a rotemburo (outdoor onsen) with snow lightly dusting my shoulders during winter in Iwate (northern Honshu island) to swimming naked with friends back in my young and rowdy days during summer in the onsen resort area of Kinugawa (Tochigi prefecture) . 😉

Wikipedia writes:

An onsen (温泉?) is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. A volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered along its length and breadth. Onsen were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism.

Japanese often talk of the virtues of “naked communion” (裸の付き合い hadaka no tsukiai?)[1] for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed homey atmosphere of an onsen inn.

I like this last part, because it conveys the lack of morality-tinged weirdness around being naked in front of other folks (at least within the space of the onsen) that is found within Japanese culture. It is simply about the natural, cozy pleasures of spending a good time with friends while soaking and scrubbing, with the relaxing aromas of steam and soap wafting through the air. It’s sort of hard to describe unless you’ve actually had the experience yourself, but it’s definitely amazing!

Anyway, we had almost given up hope of finding an onsen because by the time we got around to going to one, most inns were already closed with the exception of their paying overnight customers. We did finally find one that let us come, though, and not only was it fabulous; we also ended up being the only ones there!! The particular onsen that we found had the aroma (er, odor?) or sulfur wafting all around the building, so we knew it was authentic!

Although we had been hoping to find something with a rotenburo, this one was perfect in every other way: a nice interior with soft, soothing tones of gray and brown, a large pool that my friend’s son Leeroy had a great time sending the wooden washing bowls cruising around in as if they were fish; a wonderfully hot sauna with a cold pool for soaking in afterward whose temperature was actually hospitable to the human body (usually they are so freezing cold that it is impossible to enter them unless you have special meditative self-control powers 😉 ), and an array of luscious body products such as shampoos and soaps made from sumi (liquid charcoal), collagen, and bayu (horse fat). Sounds bizarre, but their restorative powers are supposed to be superb. And that was exactly what our afternoon/evening turned out to be!


Visiting Iraqi refugees in Jordan

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I travelled to Amman, Jordan last month with a couple other members of the Iraq Hope Network to visit Iraqi refugees. It has taken me a long time to process everything that we saw and experienced, and I am still figuring out the best way to proceed in terms of helping to provide support. Most likely, I will be preparing an article for a magazine in order to attract peoples’ awareness to the refugees’ situation and needs, and directing them toward resources where they can help provide financial support.

Basically, we met with the Amman-based members of the Collateral Repair Project (www.collateralrepairproject.org), which is a grassroots network set up to connect displaced Iraqis together with people in the U.S. who are angered about the war and want to do something to help. The CRP has teams working in three countries, with the U.S. members collecting donations, and the members in Iraq and Jordan collecting information about the refugees and updating the website with their stories.

While in Amman, we spent around three days visiting a total of about 20 refugee families and listening to their experiences. Many of them had gone through extreme traumas such as the violent killing of immediately family members, raids by U.S. soldiers in their homes, and kidnapping threats from armed militias. Common amongst all of them was also the reality of living with extreme daily stress due to having been ripped away from their lives and thrown into a foreign land, often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Since the Jordanian government only offers residency to those with a substantial amount of money in the bank, most are forced to remain in a silent, fearful existence with no legal status or work permission, and only a huge question mark for a future.

Many of the people we met with said that they suffered from severe depression; most of them said they wanted to get out of Jordan immediately and be resettled into a third country: the U.S., Australia, Sweden, or anywhere that would take them. Needless to say, due to the continuing violence in Iraq and the lack of a guarantee for their safety, the last thing that most of them wanted to do was to return home. Despite these hardships, however, most of the people we met were extremely gracious, kind, and in possession of a very strong and often hilarious spirit (as is characteristic, I am told, of most Iraqis in general). Meeting them made it all the more clear to me that it is absolutely imperative to stop the monster that is the U.S. military machine from bringing any more destruction to the lives of any more innocent and beautiful human beings.

Here are a few photos from the trip; I will include more in whatever magazine article I end up producing.

Bringing gifts from Japan
  • With members of the Collateral Repair ProjectWith members of the Collateral Repair Project
  • Delicious spread of Iraqi food (we were treated to these almost daily)

    Delicious spread of Iraqi food (we were treated to these almost daily)

    street market

    street market in Jordan


    Solar Cafe and Organic Farm

    As I type this, I am sitting in the Solar Cafe located in the foothills of Mt. Fuji listening to a jam session with a didjeridoo, djembe, jews harp, guitar, and even a throat singer. Very cool! My arms are covered in dirt, as I spent the day de-weeding a blueberry thicket and a mint patch, and watering baby cucumbers and other vegetable seedlings.

    The Solar Cafe and Earth Embassy welcome people to come stay and volunteer in their organic farm. People who stay for a least a week get free accommodation and meals, and those staying for shorter periods get discounts. The cafe serves amazing curries, organic coffee, and a delicacy I have not yet tried, but which has my mouth watering already: banana garlic pizza!

    Among the wonders I witnessed today during my volunteer stint: a pumpkin patch that arose naturally from the scraps fed over the year to the two resident sheep, Reuben and Eva, which was then fertilized by their poopy; a gorgeous, multi-colored fuzzy caterpillar that came to say hello to me as I pulled up grass; and a bevy of fresh garden vegetables being put to good use in the cafe kitchen.

    My roommate Hiromi (who is actually also my ex-girlfriend–just keepin’ it real, folks! 😉 ) is the gardener-in-residence here…for the scoop on the whole operation and how to volunteer, check out their website here!


    Terry Tempest Williams: The Politics of Place

    Mkay, I said I was going to make my next post something uplifting, and I think I’ve found it.

    I am one of those folks who is constantly reading several books at the same time, and one of those I have been slowly savoring is The Open Space of Democracy by Terry Tempest Williams.  She is an incredible writer, thinker and environmentalist, and I often find myself on the verge of weeping while reading her work. (Hormones? Perhaps. But not always. 😉 )  I first came across her when she was mentioned in an article by another of my very favorite writers, Susan Griffin, after both of them were arrested along with the amazing Alice Walker and other Code Pink members during a White House protest against the Iraq war.

    Every article of Williams’ that I have read is a gem, and I also saw a video of a keynote speech that she gave in Las Vegas, Nevada at a conference organized by Nevada Desert Experience on the 50th year of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima (I cannot bring myself to write “anniversary” or “commemoration” in this context). Two summers ago, on August 6, 2006 I was symbolically arrested along with other NDE members during a Hiroshima remembrance ceremony when we crossed onto the “property” of the test site (although the citations were basically meaningless pieces of paper due to official recognition of anti-nuclear protesters by the Western Shoshone tribe, who are of course the rightful owners of the land). But this is another blog posting entirely!

    In any case, Williams’ speech during the ceremony had the same blend of poignancy and strength as her writing. Last I heard, the video was never edited–what a shame. (As someone with 30 hours of footage sitting in my closet for an as-of-yet-unmaterialized documentary, however, who am I to talk?!)

    Anyway, in a class I am teaching right now, one of my students mused aloud regarding what foreigners really feel about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. My mind immediately went to Williams, who herself is a hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor)–having grown up in Utah downwind of the Nevada test site, and having lost several family members, including her mother, to cancer–and who often writes on the topic.

    I know this post was supposed to be light and uplifting–but Williams honestly manages to infuse hope and joy into her writing, even when dealing with subjects as wrenching, grief-inspiring and untouchable as this one. In any case, here you are, folks: an interview with Terry Tempest Williams courtesy of Scott London, whom I had never heard of previously, but who has put together what looks like a very interesting and inspiring blog indeed.


    My marathon double filmfest weekend (or: Why must scheduling for “my issues” always clash?)

    Sunday was a very intense day for many reasons.

    I woke up to fierce sunshine–was seriously tempted to hit the pool for some laps, but I knew I was already late for the Tokyo Peace Film Festival and so I forced myself to hold back. 😉

    Morning coffee and a train ride later, I had arrived to the very spaceship-looking National Olympics Memorial Youth Center, where the festival has been held for the past five years. I arrived late (my signature trademark!) and so the showing was already well underway for Rokkasho Report No. 4, which is the latest of several films on anti-nuclear issues directed by Hitomi Kamanaka, who is a total powerhouse. This woman is EVERYWHERE campaigning for the cause–it is seriously impressive!

    The next film was made by a freelance Japanese journalist in Iraq who put together footage of the real life human suffering caused by depleted uranium, cluster bombs, and other horrific weaponry being used by the U.S. military. Watching innocent children screaming in agony with such painful wounds was absolutely heartbreaking–not to mention anger-inducing toward those that made this happen. The film was done in collaboration with a Iraqi journalist who filmed many of these images–he is actually a good friend of mine, because I attended a presentation he gave a few years ago in Tokyo and we have been in constant e-mail contact since then. He is a true ally, and our friendship is a testimony to the power of ordinary citizens in the face of so much government foolery and criminality.

    Anyway, I am planning to write an article on the festival later (well, hopefully sooner!) and so I will not go into too much more detail here, except to say that it was good to connect with the movement and get info on the latest happenings. It was also awesome to watch the documentary “Peace Bed: The U.S. vs. John Lennon”, including interviews with John, Yoko and their supporters. Super inspiring!!

    As much as I wanted to stay for the remaining films, however, back over to Spiral Hall my people were calling me for the Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and so I sneaked (snuck?) away. Back at the ever funky Spiral, I first watched a rather mediocre documentary about the Dinah Shore lesbian party weekend in Palm Springs, which was followed by another doc, Freeheld–this time about the struggle for a lesbian couple in New Jersey to win pension rights since one of them (a cop) was dying of lung cancer.

    Freeheld was well-put together and quite moving. Pondering its deeper meaning afterward, I also realized that it is reflective of the sick mentality that lies at the core of so many (if not all) of the tragedies existing in the world today. To be specific: At one point, one of the so-called “Freeholders” (the name given to the county board members responsible for deciding the pension policy affecting same-sex couples) made a statement to the effect of: “We were always taught that when deciding public policy, we are not supposed to take people’s personal stories into account.”

    WOW. Let’s just let that sink in now for a minute. If “people’s personal stories” are not the basis for deciding public policy…then *what is?!* I found that statement to be extremely disturbing–and yet, not surprising. When I worked for the city government as a fresh college graduate taking phone calls from citizens about city services, this is *exactly* what I was taught. Policy is policy, and I was not to be swayed by individual situations. To this day, I still carry with me an extreme amount of guilt about the time when a young father called and said that his water had been turned off because they had not paid their water bill. He said that they had a baby at home, and needed the water to be turned back on immediately. I could hear the desperation in his voice, and yet–because I had been told by my superiors that it was completely legitimate to leave the water off until the bill had been paid–I simply repeated the official line to him. At the time, I don’t think I lost much sleep over it at all–but now, as an adult who is wiser to the ways of the world, I am sad and ashamed that I did not react differently.

    Back to the documentary: the Freehelder who made this comment eventually gave in and reversed his decision, allowing the dying cop (Laurel Hester) to receive her pension and leave it to her partner after her death. Which is wonderful…but it still leaves that fundamental problem intact: as a rule, peoples’ individual stories are not considered. And it works both ways: Laurel was commended for being a superior cop who was extremely skilled at her job. She could outshoot many of the male cops with her weapon, it was declared, and she was extremely swift at taking criminals down. One story that was recounted was the time she tackled a heroin dealer to the ground when he realized that he was dealing with undercover cops.

    I’d like to ask: what about the personal situation of the heroin dealer? Who cares enough to inquire into his situation and the reason why he might be dealing drugs? This very system that was ready to discriminate against Laurel Hester because it did not consider her personal situation continues to criminalize and ruin the lives of so many others. Not that I think that drug dealing is unproblematic; that is not my point. My point is that this consideration of peoples’ humanity and their lives as individuals is not built into the system. It is an afterthought; and it does not apply across the board. Presumably if Laurel Hester had not been a skilled marksman and a swift tackler, her colleagues may not have seen fit to lay aside their homophobic tendencies and come to her defense.

    I am also not trying to belittle Laurel’s struggle: it was a beautiful portrayal, and I was in tears at the point in the film where she finally obtained justice. But it pains me that her final statement in the film–“We are just two ordinary people, with a couple of dogs, living our lives like anyone else” (or something to that effect)–does not apply to the heroin dealer, who may just as well be an ordinary guy who has come upon hardship in his life. He, and so many other men and women whom he symbolizes, is the criminal–worthy only of contempt.

    Maybe I am being too pessimistic or negative…after all, this type of documentary is the first step in raising peoples’ awareness about these issues, and it ended in the right thing being done. But the double standard is still in existence, and I feel like it is my lifework to do whatever I can to make sure that ALL humans are treated with full respect and compassion.

    I was turning these ideas around in my head last night on my way home, having decided to enjoy a leisurely evening walk to Shibuya station rather than take the subway there. Walking is one of my greatest pleasures, epecially around dusk when the sky turns from light to deep blue and then to charcoal before fading into blackness (and sometimes, with any luck, shades of orange, red or purple appearing in between). As I was lost in my thoughts, I crossed the street and passed by a police station where a cop was standing outside on the corner holding his baton (please see my earlier posting regarding baton-wielding police officers). As my gaze fell on his weapon, suddenly I saw it raise upward toward his body as he turned and spoke to me: “Do you speak Japanese?”

    “Hai” I answered (which means “yes” in case anyone does not know), and he proceeded to ask for my identification card. “Why?” I asked him. “Because all foreigners are required to carry a registration card, and I would like to see yours,” he answered. “Why?” I asked again. “Because all foreigners are required to carry a registration card, and I would like to see yours,” he repeated. Oh great–here we were, going in circles. “I know a bit about Japanese law,” I said next, “And I am not required to show you my ID card unless you see me doing something wrong. I am simply walking down the street, so I have no reason to show you the card.”

    “Uh well, lately there have been a lot of cases of people with fake cards, so I want to double-check yours,” he continued. “And I am simply walking down the street and am doing absolutely nothing wrong,” I repeated, “so being stopped by you as if I were some criminal really does not make me feel very good.” I was trying to engage his human response, and luckily it worked: he backed off and actually said, “I’m really sorry–I didn’t mean to make you feel badly–actually I think I’d feel the same if I were in your position. I wasn’t trying to treat you like a criminal; I was simply checking to make sure you had your card. You can go on your way, but just be sure not to forget to carry your card with you.”

    I thanked him for understanding my feelings, and repeated that people should be able to feel free to walk down the street without being stopped by a cop for no reason. We parted with a friendly greeting, but I have to ask myself: if I were a black or brown man (or even likely a woman), would he have backed off so easily? What if I had a Russian accent? He was a young and friendly guy, but what if he were the other half of the “good cop, bad cop” equation and he yanked me away for obstructing his line of work? Once the paranoid wheels start turning…

    Luckily, Debito Arudou (the guy who made headlines for challenging his being thrown out of an onsen in Hokkaido for being non-ethnically Japanese) has tons of info on his site for what to do in situations like this…it was running through my mind last night as I was talking to the cop, even though my mouth was getting all dry and my voice was shaking as I was talking. Know your rights folks!!!

    Whew…I’m beat. I think I will make my next posting a nice, light and fluffy one. 😉